Editorial: System should enforce price of offending

By Scott Inglis


I know I shouldn't have been surprised, but I couldn't help it when I read today's article on unpaid reparations in the Bay of Plenty.

Figures obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend under the Official Information Act show a whopping $5.4 million in reparation money is owed by more than 1800 offenders.

The biggest amounts - totalling $264,030, $197,025.44 and $138,700 - are for arson, taking and using documents for pecuniary advantage, and providing altered/false/misleading income information.

Nationally, more than $91 million is owed.

This situation is unacceptable.

The people quoted in today's story make good points.

I couldn't help but feel sorry for taxi driver Dev Sangha. Mr Sangha, as you may recall, lost his wife and daughter in a vicious murder in Tauranga.

He was earlier robbed while on the job.

His robber was ordered to pay back the $65 he stole and $500 in reparation. Mr Sangha, not surprisingly, hasn't seen a cent.

Victim Support rightly points out unpaid reparation is simply re-victimisation. Sensible Sentencing says reparation is supposed to be an alternative to prison but the law lacks the teeth to enforce it.

Reparation is in itself a good sentencing tool. Offenders who cause harm to others should, where appropriate, pay money to their victims.

But what's the point if so many aren't paying or can't afford to pay? It would be better to make them do community work, or send them to prison, despite the extra cost this would mean to taxpayers.

I do have hope that things might change. The courts have been given greater powers, can clamp vehicles, seize and sell property, deduct money from people's accounts, issue warrants and prevent overseas travel. Overdue fines and reparation can also affect overseas travel and the ability to obtain credit.

There are further changes planned allowing for an offender's driver licence to be suspended over unpaid traffic-related reparation or fines.

These are all good solutions. But it's important they are used and ultimately achieve a reduction in the overall figure owed.

This problem is about money and the ability of offenders to pay. But it is also about victims and their rights and feelings. If I was owed reparation and hadn't seen a cent, I would be upset and feeling let down.

This is also about justice being done and being seen to be done. The rights of victims outweigh the rights of offenders.

Let's get tougher on offenders and make sure they keep up their end of the justice bargain.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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